Without a doubt this is the most different May I have ever experienced in Slave Lake. In a typical year this is when the lake would be breaking up and trees would be starting to bud out. This year, however, the lake is already completely open and the trees are almost fully leafed out. It feels strange being at the lab and experiencing such an incongruence between the way the environment looks and which species of bird are present. Normally I equate green trees and open water with yellow warbler, warbling vireo, rose-breasted grosbeak and western tanager. The shoreline should have spotted sandpiper courting and belted kingfisher hovering looking for fish. Swainson’s thrush and ovenbird should be filling our nets. Instead we have myrtle warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, northern flicker and blackbirds moving through. Long-tailed duck and scoters are still wheeling around the lake and American pipit and Lapland longspur hop along the rocky lakeshore. These are the birds of ice, cold and early spring. Not that this ‘differentness’ is a bad thing. This time of year I would also typically expect to spend the first three hours of every morning shivering while I wait for the sun to rise over the tree tops. I suppose the strangest part about the early summer-like conditions is that I feel we are falling behind – I feel anxious about why we aren’t seeing more birds. I need to keep reminding myself that this is the normal diversity of birds to be present this time of year and that all the other species will arrive when it is their time.
Things are surely picking up though, last week I reported that we had only banded 26 birds. Since then we have almost tripled our total; we are now at 75 birds banded of 15 different species. Myrtle warblers are the top banded species at 14 individuals. They are also the most common species we are observing right now. On one morning we counted just shy of 1000 of them. During the past week the diversity of sparrow species has also steadily increased. Our local song sparrows, Lincoln’s sparrow and white-throated sparrows greet us every morning with their intricate whistled songs. We have also seen savannah sparrow, white-crowned sparrow and vesper sparrow migrating by.
Lastly, this past week marked the end of my contract work with the University of Columbia. I am happy to report that we were successful in getting all the GPS units harnessed onto migrating American Robin. In two months the first batch of data will arrive with more to come at the four month mark. It will be very interesting to see where our migrant population of robins go to and how they distribute throughout the boreal. Speaking of robins, this week also marked the beginning of our summer student, Robyn Perkins’, time with us. Robyn is from Slave Lake and she is studying environmental sciences at the University of Alberta, Augustana Campus.
Brian Weeks, Ruthie Oliver and me (Nicole Krikun) with our last GPS wearing robin.